SPOTLIGHT: Topsfield Church Welcomes Phone Usage During Worship

SPOTLIGHT: Topsfield Church Welcomes Phone Usage During Worship


Scanning Supplements Worship Service


Do you get slightly annoyed when you see people checking their smart phone for messages during worship? If you were worshiping at the Congregational Church of Topsfield (CCoT), you would not be nudging your spouse to shut off the phone when you sat down; instead, you would be scanning your worship bulletin with it.


Last Sunday, Interim Minister Reverend Dr. David Fountain made available the option of scanning a QR Barcode on the back of the service order to retrieve supplementary resource information about the sermon using smart phones or a 3G-enabled Apple® iPad® while in church.


These Quick Response (QR) Codes are "those black and white squares of code you see on everything from magazines and business cards to store windows and billboards and are helping to transform the way marketers engage consumers." And in this case, worshipers.


In order to create a QR code, Fountain started by downloading an add-on to his web browser, Mozilla Firefox, and creating a target web page.   (The "add-on" for the Firefox browser is called QRLink Maker.)


"This interactive way of worshiping will be a little edgy for some," said Fountain. "But 21st century intergenerational worship in a terrifically secular culture, in a main-line Protestant denomination is a challenge. Only the creative innovators will survive. I want to find bridges that will keep our worship life 'current,' and us connected, while maintaining the integrity of CCoT's 'traditions.'"


The purpose of scanning the QR code during worship is to give people instant contextual background of the service materials they are experiencing. Individuals and families together may turn their mobile devices on during the sermon, scan, and consider the faith related content they find there. For example, last Sunday Fountain made reference to 'Jesus Christ being the Awaited Messiah.' If members scanned the QR code with their phone during the sermon, they would be linked to a web page that described what the word Messiah meant and would be given information about the origins of the meaning of the word 'Christ.'


In addition to this supplementary material, Fountain plans to offer notes or links for the music in order to educate and help develop a greater appreciation for the hymns, anthems, preludes or postludes on any given Sunday. For those people who do not have smart devices, the information is posted online and can be accessed later via the internet.


Fountain was inspired following an Interim Gathering hosted by the Massachusetts Conference, featuring Rev. Cameron Trimble who mentioned that her church was making use of QR Barcodes in worship. Fountain thought to himself, "we have the resources and a congregational setting that could benefit from giving that a try." But the interim minister acknowledges that this high-tech way of supplementing service is not for everyone. He noted that the use of a phone won't distract him a bit, but he understands that many ministers -- and worshipers -- don't feel the same way.


"I've asked members to respect those who choose to leave their phone in the car or want to be gadget-free during service. We don't want people to disturb others, so I have asked participants to scan quietly and read only during the sermon. Please no 'Angry Birds' allowed," Fountain added. "You can have a perfectly holistic worship service with or without accessing the code. But we also live in a world of multi-taskers. For those who wish to scan the back of the bulletin during worship, it's an enhancement; but it's not a disruption to those who do not choose to do so or cannot participate."


Although CCoT has only used the code one Sunday so far, a number of people did access the information, so Fountain is planning on adding a special greeting at the code destination for the Christmas Eve service. The linked page looks like a greeting card and members will be encouraged to scan the code and then upload the image/link to their Facebook wall during the service.


"At our Annual Gathering of Interim Ministers," Fountain observed  "we were in agreement that our Conference churches are living amid a 'changing landscape of ministry.' The methodologies for providing sources of communication and making connections to the secular society should be encouraged because greater access is a good thing. If there is something simple we can do to help a generation who uses their telephone to text and communicate in ways that may be unconventional to others in the congregation, we should still take advantage of it."


The QR code may be black and white, but it offers a colorful array of opportunities.

Rev. Fountain can be reached at the church office at (978) 887-2101 or
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